A Walk in Darkness…another scrubbed page…unedited…

The blistering sun rose from the endless horizon. I sat on the concrete T-wall and watched as the fiery planet came out of the darkness. It is 0600 and the thermometer read a hot 98 degrees. “I am in hell. How does anything live in this godforsaken place?” Sweat streamed down my face. I scraped my razor down my beard. There was no need for shaving cream or water. The heat has soaked me to the bone.

My section sergeant, one Paul Smythe came and sat beside me. We have been friends from day one in this third world country. He poured water into his helmet and smeared shaving cream over his beard.

“What’s going on, brother?”

It is impossible to sleep in this type of weather. We, that would be the soldiers here with me, slept in an office crammed to the max with cots. A window unit air conditioner kept it semi-cool. The temperatures would drop to a cool ninety degrees at night. Then, you would freeze to death. I was miserable.

There were eight of us at this small camp in the middle of nowhere. Paul and I were the only two up.

“Are you ready for another day, Paul?”

He nodded. We needed few words to express our disdain at being in this hostile land for fifteen months.

“Yeah. I might as well be ready. It is not like we are to be released early. What else are we going to do?”

“We could complain about the food, I guess. Although, the locals have not tried to wipe us off the face of the planet yet.”

“Yet, hoss. They haven’t tried yet.”

Both of us laughed. It is only a matter of time before we are attacked. It is the nature of warfare. Still, every day that we are not attacked is a good day. I washed my face with a clean rag and leaned back against the barrier.

“I have never missed home the way I do now.” I have lived in Europe for a couple of years. It is nice enough; it is not home but there is plenty to do.

“Do you have anything planned when you return to the States?”

“I don’t know, yet. I am headed to Colorado. If I have survived this deployment.”

“Looks like today is the day, brother. We’ve got company. “Out of the nothingness of the desert a swell of people walked toward our camp. They had their weapons raised into the air.

They continued to march toward us. We watched as they came forward. So far, they had not exhibited any hostile intent. I turned to Paul. “Don’t start without us, brother. I am headed to get the boys.”

“You better hurry.”

I rushed back to the small building. “We have company! Grab your gear and get to the pad.” They grumble and roll over. I lost my temper. “GET UP! TIME NOW!” They rolled out of bed and grabbed their gear and followed me to the T-Wall. Paul gave us our marching orders.

“This could be nothing. Or it could be a world class knockdown drag out. Take up positions that give you a clear line of fire without endangering your brothers. If this gets ugly do not let us get flanked. We will all die if we are flanked. Got it?”

“Got it,” we shouted in unison. Paul and I walked out to meet the locals. Adrenaline surged through my body. I took my weapon in hand. “I am not going to die here today.”

“It’s ride or die time, brother. This is not our first time. You know where I keep the letter to my wife, right?”

“Roger. You know where I keep mine. If I should not make it out of this, do me a favor and give it to my wife.”

“Of course.”

“One last thing, I don’t trust anyone else to do it.”

“Sure, ask away.”

“If I lose a limb here…don’t let me go home like that. Put a bullet in me. Use one of their weapons to do it. I wouldn’t want you to go to jail for keeping your word to me.”

“I gotcha. You’re going to be fine.”

“The world is full of people who thought they would be fine.”

 Paul laughed. The crowd pushed in around us. A young man, no older than 25, stepped out from the crowd. He was the ringleader of this ever-growing circus. We watched as he pranced back and forth in front of his crowd.

“Death to America, “he shouted into a megaphone. He was dressed in a black robe; a gas mask hung from his right hip.

“Oh joy,” I growled. “They brought a professional instigator.”

 Our eyes never left the ringleader.

“Do you have that riot control grenade on you,” Paul asked.

“I have it.”

“Pop him, I’m tired of hearing his mouth.”

I dropped the solid rubber grenade into the tube, a small smile crossed my lips. Without another word, I pressed the trigger. The grenade slammed into the instigator’s chest; the snap of bone could be heard by everyone. He dropped to the ground with an oof.

Shocked, the crowd backed up. They began to murmur. I walked up to the instigator and knelt beside him.

“Hey, are you okay man?”

 He groaned. Tiny shards of bone protruded from his robe. He refused to answer me. I tapped him on the shoulder.

“Hey, man. I asked if you were okay. What happened to you?”

He groaned again and tried to shove my hand away. I backed up until he calmed down.

I treated the instigator for shock. While I took care of him, I spoke to him.

“Why did you guys have to come screw with us? We’ve only been here for two days.”

The crowd began to disperse. Paul watched me work, our soldiers came and stood beside him.

“Do you honestly believe we wanted to come here and screw up your country? Heck no. We wanted to be home and watch our children grow up. But no…”

He had not responded, so I checked his breathing. His chest continued to rise and fall. In the distance, I heard the medic shouting out orders.

Rough hands grabbed me and shoved me aside.

“What happened here,” the medic shouted at me.

“Man, somebody shot this poor fellow.” The medic stared at me incredulously. He shook his head and bit down on his lip.

“No crap.”

“Nah man, for real. This fool showed up with a crowd of people and shouted, ‘Death to America.’

“So, you shot him.”

“Potato, Potatoe. I was fearful for my life, man. If that crowd had swarmed us, we’d all been dead.”

“Whatever. Help me get him in the vehicle.”

We loaded him up. I watched as the vehicle rushed him in the direction of the medical camp.

“It’s going to be a long fifteen months.”

I walked over to Paul, and we watched as the medics left. Paul forced a smile and said, “that was a close one. We got lucky.”

“Yep. You know they will be back tonight, right?”

“Yeah. Let’s draw up a plan and then rack out.”

We chatted about our kids on the way back to the tent. Paul’s daughter was valedictorian for her graduating class, mine was playing basketball on the local team. “It’s not even 0700 and we’ve already had trouble. What else could go wrong today?”

Sometimes, you should just be thankful things are not worse and keep your complaints to yourself. I learned that lesson in a hurry.

Three days later, I found myself outside of a hostile city, lying in a bomb crater, waiting for orders to kill the city.

Have you ever helped kill a city? What? You did not know they were living, breathing, entities? I have. I am not especially proud of it, but sometimes these things are necessary.

Falcon was one such place. Numerous attempts had been made to quelch the violence in the city. Any who held opposing views from the insurgents were annihilated.

A staff duty runner summoned me to headquarters two days after the mass of people showed up at our office. Our intelligence officer, Dan Something-or-Another, stood at the horseshoe shaped table.

“Gentlemen,” he said in a voice that had hardly any edge to it, “the time has come for us to liberate Falcon. The insurgency has grown to such strength they openly kill all who dared take a stand against them.”

 I fidgeted in my chair; I hated these briefings. “Point us where to go and give us the objective already.”

A guy who sat next to me lifted his hand; Dan acknowledged him. “Yeah?”

“How many insurgents are we talking about, exactly?”

“We are unsure of the number of insurgents. There could be a couple of hundred. No more than that.”

“Weapons?”

“We are told to expect small arms and IEDS.”

“Told by who?”

“We have sources on ground who have fed us this intel.”

“You mean locals,” I interjected.

“Yes. They are locals.”

“Getting back to the matter at hand. You guys are being sent to work on a task force.”

Across the table another hand shot up in the air. “Yes,” Dan sighed.

“What’s the survival rate of this mission? Are we walking into the lion’s den here?”

“We don’t expect any of you to return. We would be surprised if any of you returned. Falcon is a hornet’s nest, and you are being sent to kick it over. You should call your families. Departure for Falcon is 1630.”

A day later, I am stuck in this bomb crater watching the comings and goings of the city. Women are raped in public. The poor children, the horrors that befell the innocent children.

On day three in the OP, the radio broke the silence.

“The entire city is hostile, I say again, the entire city is hostile.”

Those were the words that sealed the fate of Falcon.


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